Myanmar: As Aung San Suu Kyi goes on trial, ASEAN indecision enabling military rampage

  • Aung San Suu Kyi faces seven charges and decades in prison as the UN General Assembly sets to vote on a landmark resolution on Myanmar
  • Since the coup, more than 800 civilians including 58 children were killed, more than 4800 people detained and more than 100,000 displaced in Kayah State alone
  • ASEAN states play pivotal role. They must support call for UN arms embargo or will effectively shield military’s crimes against the civilian population
  • ASEAN senior official’s call for release of political opposition welcome, but other ASEAN states must follow

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must stop shielding the Myanmar military from international pressure and accountability, Amnesty International said today as the country’s human rights crisis continues to worsen dramatically.

With the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi having started on 14 June, the organization further urges all ASEAN member states to finally get behind calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained in the country and support measures to stop the flow of weapons to the Myanmar military.

“ASEAN’s usual commitment to non-interference is enabling the military’s deadly rampage, fuelling a human rights and humanitarian crisis that will sink both ASEAN’s credibility and the very stability it seeks to uphold,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research.

“Millions of people in Myanmar are losing faith in ASEAN. The regional bloc must change course and offer a lifeline to people in Myanmar by getting behind international efforts to protect civilians and urge the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is currently facing a total of seven charges. If found guilty, she can face decades in prison and will effectively be barred from holding office again. Her charges include violating Section 55 of the Anti-Corruption Law, the Official Secrets Act, Section 67 of the Telecommunications Law and the Export and Import Law (possessing walkie talkies in her home). She also faces two charges under Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law and “incitement” under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code.

“The military is digging deep into its arsenal of repressive laws, including those from the colonial-era, in a desperate attempt to silence Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leaders and many other vocal critics who have been arbitrarily detained,” said Emerlynne Gil.

The Myanmar security forces continue to kill, injure and arrest civilians. Since the 1 February coup, an estimated 863 civilians, including 58 children, have been killed and a countless number of people have been injured, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPPB). Reports of torture and deaths in custody keep emerging. Internet restrictions remain in place, and media freedom is severely restricted.

Meanwhile, fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and groups of protesters taking up arms is escalating and spreading across the country, killing or injuring civilians, damaging civilian properties, and displacing hundreds of thousands of women, men and children. Recent clashes, including air raids, in Karenni or Kayah State alone has displaced estimated 100,000 civilians who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Approximately 200,000 civilians have been displaced so far this year, adding to over 300,000 existing displaced persons reliant on humanitarian aid.

High-level meeting exposes faltering ASEAN diplomacy

On 4 June, a high-level delegation comprised of ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and Erywan Pehin Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN, met with coup leader and head of the Myanmar military authorities, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s capital.

The high-level meeting in Nay Pyi Taw reported little tangible progress on ASEAN’s “Five-Point Consensus” on the Myanmar crisis, including calls for the cessation of violence, humanitarian access and the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar.

ASEAN must implement a call for Myanmar to release arbitrary detainees

In one welcome advance, in a statement after the meeting, the Chairman of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Erywan Pehin Yusof, called for the release of political detainees in Myanmar.

According to AAPPB, as of 13 June, 4,863 people are currently detained or have been sentenced in in the wake of the 1 February coup, including the country’s elected civilian leadership.

“The belated commitment of a senior ASEAN official to the release of the political opposition is welcome and essential and we hope that this view is adopted as consensus by ASEAN,” said Emerlynne Gil. “It should also be clear that ASEAN’s mediation efforts would be all but impossible if key stakeholders are all behind bars.”

“ASEAN should place top priority on demanding that the Myanmar military immediately release not only prominent political detainees, but all of the thousands of people arbitrarily detained, and call for their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Emerlynne Gil.

Shocking lack of progress since ASEAN emergency summit

The Five-Point Consensus was agreed at an emergency summit in Jakarta attended by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on 24 April, but the Myanmar military authorities have since repeatedly stated that it would not act upon the plan until the country had reached “stability.” Between the ASEAN summit and 13 June, 115 more people have been killed and 1,474 more people are arbitrarily detained or sentenced.

“Myanmar’s generals are making a mockery of ASEAN’s meek efforts to lead the international response – continuing to kill, jail, and drive the country into the ground before the ink had dried on ASEAN’s ‘Five Point Consensus’,” said Emerlynne Gil.

“The regional bloc must get behind efforts at the UN to protect civilians, ensure their humanitarian needs are adequately met, urgently stop the flow of weapons to the military and secure the release of all those arbitrarily detained.”

Growing calls at the UN for a global arms embargo on Myanmar

ASEAN states continue to negotiate with the states sponsoring a UN General Assembly resolution to address the human rights crisis in Myanmar, of which only some of the ASEAN members are supportive of a comprehensive arms embargo.

“ASEAN must support the passing of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a halt of weapons transfers to the Myanmar military. Anything less is an abdication of ASEAN’s leadership role on the Myanmar crisis, and shows ASEAN is siding with a military that is continuing to kill and imprison unarmed protesters and other civilians.

Even if adopted, a call for halting transfers by the UNGA has only moral force and may not deter the major arms suppliers to the military – including China, Russia and India. The UN Security Council must urgently then make a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar mandatory for all states to stop the military’s killing spree against its own people.

“Whether through willful obstruction or internal disagreement, ASEAN has become the Myanmar military’s shield at the highest levels of global diplomacy. Instead, ASEAN states must stand together against rampant military atrocities and urgently get behind the calls for a global and comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar.”

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